Published: Self-published (15 August 2013)
Cover art: Humble Nations (design)
Special specs: Gripping lore, exciting missions, fun characters
Readers I’d gift it to: Those who love rpgs, and quest fantasies with fun main characters and entertaining task-by-task plots that uncover intriguing lore.
*My warm thanks to the author for the review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Pemry Janes’ The Living Sword is an amusing page-turner of a novella where quest fantasy meets sword and sorcery (arguably these are both the same thing but hey, if so, they’re definitely meeting. Moving on).
Pretty much the definition of short and sweet (well, as sweet as bloodthirsty —literally…— assassins and knight necromancers can be), I savored it all in just a day due to its fast pace and entertaining plot.
I have to admit I was uncomfortable with the extreme otherness of the San in the opening chapters. Granted they’re plant-humanoids and so “same” is an overstatement (although they are humanoid), but the clear cultural parallels hit too many racial stereotypes, too close to home. “Oval-eyed, expressionless, indistinguishable”, these have been recurrent characteristics used to describe the cultures the San seem to parallel, and though I agree it’s not fair to the author that readers might build this comparison due to overwhelming recurrence in precedent traditional fantasy, I thought a bit of duality here could have helped shedding that link completely. I personally couldn’t help seeing it through that lens, though I’m sure many will disagree.
After the first chapters, the book progresses in the classic quest fantasy I very much enjoy reading. Eurik leaves his island on a mission to find out who his parents were, and thus, finding out where he himself came from and what his place in the world is. It’s never quite so easy as it sounds, is it?
Eurik is a great character; humble, adaptable, a bit naive, but still confident, easy-going. He’s utterly refreshing and he compliments his companion perfectly. Misthell is a sentient sword that not only looks super cool with its eye looking over Eurik’s shoulder, it’s also a sassy crew member that will make you laugh. They make such a fun duo to journey with. And when you’re running from people who want to kill you, you need that. It’s basic maths. So, him and Eurik are an evenly-matched pair trying to pinpoint where they belong and you’ll love wondering with them.
Naturally, the crew eventually grows larger than the two which is something you can look forward to when you pick up this novella. I really enjoyed the character dynamics, which to me, are perhaps the most important element in quest fantasy (if I have to walk through unknown landscapes where every rock can hide a creature trying to kill you, I usually prefer to enjoy the company).
Eurik’s interaction with the world around him as he discovers new sights and deadly species brings with it the atmosphere of an rpg. As we follow him from “mission to mission” in the quest of finding out who his parents were and why he ended up with the San, the lore of this world opens itself to us in a very fluid manner. We learn about legends and heroes, which reminded me of Roman myth, and magical catastrophes that have ravaged lands and influenced its inhabitants.
The lore is intriguing and the action scenes immersive, in great part thanks to Eurik’s engaging displays of the (arguably) magic system, which involves element manipulation. There was clever foreshadowing from the author in the earlier scenes of the book that when tied in at the end prompted an impressed “ohhh” out of me, a sign I was pretty submerged in the story. Ah, I did not see that coming though I should have!
I stayed up later than likely healthy finishing this book and immediately looked up the sequel.
The Living Sword is, in one sentence, classic fantasy done in the author’s genuine, gripping, highly-entertaining way.
Possible trigger warnings:Rape threat, violence
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About Pemry Janes
I grew up on a farm in the Netherlands. I discovered history and fantasy at a young age, I even studied the former at university. I now try to combine my passion for both in my writing. I try to create worlds that are both rich and strange, populated with people. Whatever shape, size, or worldview they may have.
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